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I write romance novels -- so what?

By Eileen Dreyer, Special to CNN
Romance novels return women to a time when nothing existed except their true love, says author.
Romance novels return women to a time when nothing existed except their true love, says author.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Writer Eileen Dreyer defends romance novels as a sort of memory lane
  • Books help her "return to that moment ... when nothing really existed but my lover"
  • Says she's not a "sexually frustrated loser" living in dreary apartment with cat
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Editor's note: Eileen Dreyer and her evil twin Kathleen Korbel have written more than 36 books in romance and suspense. Her July 2010 release, "Barely a Lady" will be her first foray into historical romance.

(CNN) -- I write romance novels.

That obviously means that I am a sexually frustrated loser dressed in a robe and bunny slippers who lives in a dreary apartment with my cat and lives vicariously through my devastatingly beautiful heroines.

At least that's how I'm portrayed in most media.

OK, maybe I do wear bunny slippers. But that's only because my daughter bought them for me as a joke, and they keep my feet warm.

Oh, all right, I also have a couple of cats. And yes, in fact, I do have a libido. But that's as far as I go in resembling the caricature.

I actually don't write or read romances because I'm lonely, or because I feel inadequate, or want the chance to sneak a peak at dirty words. If you want to get political, I write romance because I like to remind myself (and everyone else. Writers are compelled to make other people listen to them) that I deserve everything I want in a relationship. I deserve to be happy, to be satisfied, to be safe, to be an equal. I deserve to be solvent and for my children to be taken care of.

As a genre written by women primarily for women, it is our promise to each other that life is worth reproducing. It's our commitment to the future. Pretty heavy stuff for heaving loins, huh?

If you think about it, though, we're in the business of hope. No matter what happens in a romance (and trust me, after 26 romances, I've had absolutely everything happen, from attempted suicide to the battle of Waterloo), everything comes out all right. We romance writers say, "If we just commit to each other, if we work together, we can get through anything." Very powerful message, if you ask me.

But romances are just fantasy, you protest. Of course they are. So is every Tom Clancy book, Shakespeare play, and political ad. I make no apologies for the fantasies in romance.

Yes, the heroines tend to be relentlessly orgasmic. The heroes are just as relentlessly manly (as much as I'd love to say that my heroes are everyman, not one of them has looked like Steve Buscemi) and impossibly stoic when wounded.

(Most people assume that women love an injured hero because it brings out her nurturing instincts. They expect us to go all Marion to Indiana Jones' reluctant winces. Baloney. Any woman who has had to put up with her husband's near-fatal colds knows that the fantasy of an injured hero is that he doesn't whine.)

But after 20 years of writing romances and 36 years of marriage, I have to admit that there is one fantasy that is becoming more and more important to me.

I have children. I have grandchildren. My husband and I are both getting gray, and over the years we have collected responsibilities and distractions like dust bunnies.

We love each other even more than when we first married, but it's a tempered love, well-worn and familiar. It isn't new. It isn't exciting. It isn't a revelation. It isn't completely, utterly, magically all-consuming. We have to share it with kids and careers and the responsibilities of the wider world.

But when I read a romance, I can return to that moment in a blooming relationship when I could be perfectly selfish, when nothing really existed but my lover.

When love was an exhilarating surprise, and the world seemed a bit brighter, tasted sweeter, made me smile more, just because the man I loved was in my life. When we could disappear for an entire weekend, doing nothing but lying in bed naked reading (well, some of the weekend reading, anyway) and suffer no consequences (like the state wanting to know why our 12-year old is out driving our other kids to ball practice).

After all, after 36 years of marriage, it's been a long time since I've been able to indulge in one person like that. And I admit it: I miss it, too.

But sometimes, when I open a book and read about a man and a woman who are just discovering each other, I can relive it. I can remind myself that it was a wonderful part of my courtship and marriage.

And, if I'm very lucky and the stars are aligned and nothing calls us away, I can remind my husband of it, too.

Not a bad fantasy at all.